Oct. 5, 2016
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Georgia Tech softball holds a special place in Maggie Davis’ heart and she in theirs.
That Davis, 24, was a college softball player is purely coincidence, as she never played a game or even participated in a practice for the Jackets — she played from 2007-11 for Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. In fact, until a couple of months ago, neither party knew much of anything of the other.
Everything changed one morning during the summer when Georgia Tech softball head coach Shelly Hoerner came across an email from Davis’ mom, Mary Jones. It was a request to participate in an event for “Team Maggie,” a foundation started by Jones on behalf of her daughter. Maggie had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 24, shortly after her college graduation, but after undergoing a double-mastectomy and doing several rounds of chemotherapy was declared cancer-free. About eight months ago, Maggie became a mother for the first time.
“I had no idea who she was. She was just asking if we were interested, it’s a 5K/10K run,” said Hoerner. “We emailed back and forth, I looked at their Facebook page. They have started this foundation, ‘Team Maggie,’ to help bring awareness to young people; that it can happen to you at such a young age. She’s a cancer survivor, she now has a child and, basically, this was to help bring awareness for fertility, to freeze eggs if needed. It’s basically for fertility preservation in young adults. I think that’s really where they want to bring awareness and that’s why they did this run.”
The issue was important enough that Hoerner didn’t need to think on it long before getting the team involved.
The run was held on Sept. 24 at Kings Court Church in Roswell. The entire Yellow Jackets team showed up to show support.
“It’s amazing what this team does whenever we’re rallied around something,” said senior centerfielder Samantha Pierannunzi, who described the team’s role as “really, really good cheerleaders.” “We have such a special family here so when coach brought the opportunity for us to go out there, it might have been early in the day, it might have been on an off-day, but we want to be a part of our community. We want to support the people around us that need it. So they full-force took it on and were extremely positive.
“It was pretty cool to meet Maggie, we got to meet her daughter. We had a great time holding her,” she added. “It was fun to watch Maggie’s face as we were interacting with her daughter. She’s beautiful. She was just the sweetest little girl and because of raising awareness, because of fundraising Maggie is able to have a child. It’s the most incredible thing. I think that was cool for my teammates to see that. I think it’s really cool that events like this exist and they hit home pretty hard for me, too. One of the biggest benefits of having events that support breast cancer awareness is the fact that it reaches audiences that don’t always hear a message.”
That Davis was so young also struck a chord with the team.
“I can’t imagine what she had to go through. Being 24 you’re not worried about having breast cancer. You’re not worried about life-or-death situations. You’re worried about getting your first job or getting engaged or having a baby,” Pierannunzi said. “She had to go through all this. Now she’s on the other end and she’s been successful. Getting to interact with Maggie was incredible. Then, on top of that, seeing the people at the race and seeing how they responded to me just standing there and encouraging, it was fun to watch their faces light up. There’s a real sense of community along with this. It’s so good. It’s something that hits home, to say the least.
“A lot of the people that ran the race were impacted by breast cancer in some way. So whether it was them or their family members, it takes a lot of courage to step out of your comfort zone and do something to bring attention to breast cancer awareness,” she added. “I think when you’re going through it or you are really close to someone going through it, the last thing that you necessarily want is attention on it because it’s already a hard part of your life. But you’re taking a positive action to make a change so that’s something that’s worth celebrating. I think that’s why we were there, to recognize the people that are struggling through it or struggling alongside it. To make sure that they know that every single thing that they do in their lives, whether it’s run 5K or to go about their lives and be positive and raise awareness, that’s worth celebrating.”
Pierannunzi can relate as she is one of those people. Her mom, Jeannie was diagnosed with breast cancer 15 years ago and had been clear but recently was given the news that it had returned.
It was devastating news.
Sam’s strength — as well as that of her brothers Kevin and Michael — is a Pierannunzi family trait that Hoerner credits to Jeannie and her husband, Kenneth.
“[Sam] had a conversation with her dad and her dad said, ‘I still want you to hit .400. You are still a big part of this program. You are a leader of this program,’” Hoerner said. “I said, ‘With all due respect, this is a GAME. I know you’re going to give your all with whatever you do, but whatever you need from me, at the drop of a hat, you need to go, you need to go with your mom. You’re there for your mom. That’s the priority.’”
The team has made Mrs. Pierannunzi, a focal point throughout the fall, as they will wear their pink jerseys in every game.
“We are wearing pink jerseys the entire fall in honor of Mrs. Pierannunzi. We want as many prayers and supporters as we can for her and her family, and Sam, of course,” Hoerner said. “We’ve got some t-shirts that have been made for her, some bracelets that have been made for her and I can’t tell you how proud I am of our whole softball program, just in all of the support of her. I know they are incredibly thankful and we are, and myself, I just feel blessed to know them and get strength from them as well because they are such a strong family.
“Mrs. Pierannunzi is one of the strongest people I have ever met. One of the most positive people I have ever met. She beat it once. She will beat it again,” she added. “I have never not seen her smile before. She just brings that joy and infectious attitude to everybody,” she added.
The team also expects to see more of Davis, this spring and in the future via Team Maggie For a Cure.
“We will definitely stay in touch with her, she definitely wants to come to a game. “She’s as strong as ever right now,” Hoerner raved. “I would like to make this an annual event and I have spoken to her and her mom about that. I also said, ‘Whatever else we can do we would love to help out.’”
Maggie Davis, Jeannie Pierannunzi and women everywhere that have fought off or are fighting off cancer have made a deep impression on Hoerner and the program, one that extends beyond the diamond and softball.
“These people are so positive going through what they’re going through,” said Hoerner. “I think that’s the outlook people should have on life. I think you can either be positive or feel sorry for yourself. You can either fight it or not. With a handful of people that have been in my life that have gone through being a cancer survivor, they have just fought and fought and fought and the positivity is just contagious.”
For more information and to contribute to Team Maggie For A Cure visit www.teammaggieforacure.org/.